Recently there has been a lot of discussion regarding the impact that social networks will have (or not) on the future of the b2b sales and marketing. In fact, just a few weeks ago at the AAISP conference in San Francisco I gave a presentation entitled “The Future of Sales” – social impact being a big part of it.
I thought it went well, however was surprised by the number of people who pulled me aside to ask:
“Do you really think this social selling thing is for real?”
I did my best to paint scenarios of how future customer (2.0) engagement models will look, with organized groups gathering virtually to discuss issues and corresponding solutions – ultimately resulting in action and resolution.
The next day I grabbed a flight home, where I landed 7 hours later on the couch in my living room watching along with the rest of the world as the people of Egypt reclaimed their freedom via a Facebook fueled revolution.
Of course selling b2b solutions pales in comparison to the overthrow of a dictatorship – there is no emotional or intellectual connection whatsoever. However, these incredible events made me come to realize that if social networks could be used as the central platform of communication to manage an uprising; we should all be pretty sure they will suffice for selling solutions.
I thought of the b2b non-believers and wondered if they would make the same connection?
In case not, I decided to post on topic in order to summarize 3 key shifts which are already in play, the beginning of the b2b sales revolution – one which when complete will deliver us into “the sales future”.
Hence, the 3 shifts and my thoughts on each:
Shift 1: Social Nets, pushing sellers out of early qualifying conversations
Historically when a buyer sought solutions they were dependent on vendors to provide expert advice; ultimately leading towards courtship, evaluation, and ultimately acquisition.
Of course they could pay consultants or purchase analyst research; but ultimately all roads lead back to the same or similar set of vendors. In fact even in the “Google era”, search results return content predominantly controlled by sellers; hence the millions of man hours and dollars spent by marketers on PPC and SEO strategies.
Conversely social networks like LinkedIn, Focus, Quora and to a lesser extent Facebook, promote a free and open exchange of expert advice; which has and will continue to drastically impact the traditional buyer-seller relationship and accompanying engagement models.
In other words, the rise of “social selling” will not exclude vendors yet create new and significant challenges for them; particularly within early qualifying stages where historically the foundation of trust, credibility and competitive separation would have previously been established by the seller.
Hence shift 1, the ability for “Customer 2.0” to push traditional introductory and information gathering conversations beyond the finite and heavily controlled “Vendorsphere” out and into the wide open social universe; a proven forum to connect and converse in real time with hundreds of trusted peers – only afterwards, once educated and on their schedule, determining which sellers to engage.
Shift 2: “Workplace”- where it is, and when it is
There is no doubt that the advancement of mobile devices and apps represent key technological evolution, but the point I want to make here is that as they continue to penetrate our work and home lives, the line of demarcation between the two will no longer be one of physical presence, but instead as Rick Segal (@mrbtob), Worldwide President & Chief Practice Officer at Gyro HSR said in a recent interview with BtoB Magazine, “a state of mind”…
“(Technology) has changed the way we talk to business decision-makers. Being at work is no longer a place; it is a state of mind, a kind of continuing oscillation that people are making between their work life and their personal life.”
Think about that for a moment.
In fact, here’s a test: have you used a mobile device today? Sent work related communication? Checked personal or work email? LinkedIn? Been on Facebook? Or Tweeted?
Here’s the kicker – did you stop to think about where you were or what time it was when you did this?
Probably not, I know I didn’t.
Hence shift 2; mobility changing home-work boundaries; no longer consciously considering a hard line between the environments – or if we do, it has become increasingly difficult to keep that line in focus – a separation that in the future will not exist; bringing about the final shift; the pinnacle event – a point in time where Gen Y and Gen Z take over influence and decision making roles within the b2b workforce.
Shift 3: The coming of b2b-age for Gen Y & Z.
I’m “GenX”, part of a generation born between the 60’s and the late 70’s – unless your Dad worked at NASA you did not have a computer in your upbringing. Gen Xr's introduction to technology may have been part of their High School “Management Information Systems” curriculum, or later in the form of a Mac128 on their college campus. However for most, regular access didn’t exist until post-graduation.
My nephew on-the-other-hand is “GenY”. Although birth dates for “Y’s” are a bit of a moving target most say this generation came to life in the decade spanning the early 80’s to early 90’s.
This group grew up watching extraordinary innovation change the world. In fact, as part of a 2007 Strauss and Howe study of Y-students, it was revealed 97% owned a computer, 94% a cell phone, 56% a MP3 player. They also found that 76% used instant messaging, of which 92% reported multitasking at the same time.
And then there are my kids, all 3 of them “Z’s”; born in the early to mid-90’s thru the early turn-of-the-millennium.
Generation Z is highly connected, with lifelong use of communications and media technologies, earning them the nickname “digital natives". They carry smart phones in grade school, text more than talk, and prefer technology for communications – communications which are abbreviated, highly transactional, and out in the open.
They do not think of innovation as their predecessors do; a utility to make life more efficient. Instead, and which makes this third shift extraordinary, they see it as basic cultural need, “Maslow-like”; food, clothing, shelter, and technology – so to speak.
Currently GenZ’s fall in the age range of 11-21 years old; which means the eldest will be entering the workforce later this year or in 5-7 years have influence on either side of the table; bringing with them their genetic predisposition and cultural desire to be “always on”.
Z’s will not gasp at the thought of conducting critical b2b discussions in real time, nor will they wonder if work-life-balance is out of whack; instead they will be moving at the speed of “Z” as Digital Natives do – ignoring those who cannot keep pace; a remarkably unique characteristic that when paired with their future Gen Y Executive Management Team will bring about dramatic change.
Hence, shift 3, the empowering of “Y” and “Z” within the workplace as buyer and seller. Above all shifts, this one changes an element of b2b that the others do not – the culture.
Summing the Shifts
Although an individual review of each shift is interesting it is not until you sum all 3 that you find “The Future”; a time when mature and trusted social networks are accepted within a mobile state-of-mind-culture where influence and decision making is controlled by digital natives – a time when b2b “selling” will become unrecognizable from its current state.
I spent 10 years within the contact center market where I toured hundreds of Network Operating Centers (NOC’s) at some of the largest companies in the world.
The NOC is a space-aged-place where teams of analysts sit in front of 100’s of flat panel screens monitoring every movement of the corporate network - the entire time responding to alarms and beacons suggesting suspicious activity.
I don’t have a crystal ball, but when I think of the future of b2b sales, I see a similar engagement model for social sellers. Specifically one where technology exists in the palm of their hands to monitor the movement of influencers and decision makers as they make their way from one social conversation to the next; tracking them with apps that recognize key words and phrases that when paired, like the network analyzer from the NOC, alerts them to “critical conditions”.
I am simply surmising my thoughts, yet the one that keeps coming back to me is that which I had when Larry Reeves of AAISP first called and suggested a presentation on this topic. I laughed to myself as I considered using imagery from Star Wars, something that would continually remind the audience just how far-fetched this all is - “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far, away”.
However in reality, I’ve come to realize it’s not.
In fact, beyond Glance’s recent launch of Glance for Salesforce; a chat-like demo service designed to snap squarely into this world of real time socially driven sales conversation; there have been a couple of other companies namely InsideView, and Salesforce.com who have made announcements of their own signaling the rapid formation of this social universe.
First, InsideViews CEO, Umberto Milletti closed our San Francisco event with his announcement of their Social Selling University. It makes sense as their service is one of real time social alignment; tracking key decision makers via their output into the social strata; a brilliant vision allowing inside sales organizations to build intelligent engagement models - a massive competitive differentiator from the laggards still pounding cold calls into the ether.
Second is Marc Benioff’s Chatter.com.
By now we have all seen the Superbowl commercials touting Chatter. I must admit, besides the thought of reviewing sales forecasts with Fergie - I really didn’t get the positioning. But that’s why he’s the man, and I’m still working on it; the commercials weren’t aimed at me; they were instead “shift 3” oriented, specifically geared for the Facebook gen, it was all about the coming of the “Z’s”.
When I began all of this I was truly thinking about making some crazy prediction of the future, however, the more I dug the more intriguing it became, along with the obvious discovery – that the future is now.
In fact, my instinct was to close this blog with the words, “may the force be with you”; but in retrospect that just seems old, backwards looking or as the Black Eyed Peas would say: “so-two-thousand-and-late”.